I knew having a child would be life changing, but considering I'd never really held a baby, let alone tried to raise one, the profound shift in my new reality was jarring. Nothing could have prepared me for the massive onslaught of emotions, both energizing and draining, that would overtake both Emily and me, but ultimately, seeing the world through Sloan's young eyes has been the best thing I've ever experienced. Looking back over the past few months, here are the most important lessons I've learned about myself, my wife, and our baby.
1. Time management is key. A newborn doesn't adhere to your schedule, which often leads to the loss of essential things, like sleep; or skipping daily rituals, like taking a shower. Needless to say, I wasn't looking very healthy for the first month after Sloan's arrival, but this new chaos forced both of us to become super efficient, which wasn't necessarily easy, but essential. I've never been great at multitasking, but I've mastered the ability of eating while carrying the baby and putting laundry into the machine, at the same time kicking around a cat toy. It looks kind of like a wonky one-man-band, but it got me through the first few weeks.
2. Accept help and be helpful. No matter how independent you are, it really does take a village, so when a family member or friend offers anything, just say yes. The simplest gesture goes a long way and I've learned to gratefully accept offers I normally would have politely declined. At the same time, it's crucial to provide as much support as possible to each other, whether that's through actions, or words. You're sharing the challenge and it's easy to get burned out, so whenever I reach a tipping point, I try to take a step back and figure out what I can do to help alleviate the situation. Sometimes you need space, other times you need to do whatever is asked, but I've found it's a lot easier to be flexible rather than rigid.
3. Actively maintain your personal life. Along the lines of the previous point, one of the most thoughtful favors a friend offered early on was to watch Sloan for a few hours so Em and I could have a date. It's easy to get caught up in being new parents, but it's important to remember who you were before the baby arrived and not discount the years of happiness you experienced as a couple. Considering we both work from home, we spend a tremendous amount of time together as a family, so it's nice to carve out moments to be a married couple and not just parents. We've also agreed to a rule that the phone only rings one way when we're out, meaning we're not calling or checking in while on a date.
4. Things will go wrong. No matter how hard you try, you're going to mess up, and that's okay. The first time we gave Sloan a bath we nearly flooded our entire kitchen. Water was splashing everywhere, the baby probably thought we were trying to drown her, and I'm not sure how, but she managed to come out dirtier afterwards. Needless to say, we've improved in that arena, but after the first few weeks of stumbling around, I no longer worry about having everything go smoothly, since it typically doesn't. As long as she's safe, clothed and fed properly, everything else will be fine.
5. Take the long view. I'm going to be a parent for the rest of my life, so while it's so easy to feel desperate at 2am when everything's going wrong, I constantly remind myself that every stage of Sloan's growth is temporary. Some stages are better than others, but ultimately my obligation is to be as consistent as possible with my temperament and approach to raising her. There are definitely moments where I want to let out a primal scream of exhaustion, but once that tension subsides, I refocus on the coming weeks, months and years we're going to share and get excited about the changes to come. Also, once she started smiling (around week 7) and her personality began to come through, it immediately melted any tension I previously may have had.